In his last budget before the election the Chancellor George Osborne made several spending commitments that were targeted at specific local areas.
These included cash for a local theatre upgrade in Pendle, 20 new ‘housing zones’ in places including Thurrock, Weston-Super-Mare and Gloucester and an Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre in Sheffield. Sometimes such spending commitments are described as ‘sweeteners’ or seen as evidence of ‘pork barrel’ politics. We’re going to rise above the fray and call them Targeted Instances of Public Spending (TIPS).
Our question is: did TIPS make a difference to the election result?
To find out, we used a helpful analysis carried out by the Financial Times after the Budget, in which they picked out TIPS from the Chancellor’s Red Book and matched them to specific constituencies.
They listed 30 constituencies in total. Four had Liberal Democrat incumbents and no real prospect of a Conservative win. We’re passing over these on the basis that the Liberal Democrat vote share was subject to, let’s say, force majeure. Many of the other 26 were Conservative-Labour marginals, although a handful were safe seats for one party or the other. What happened to the Conservative vote share in these 26?
Compared to the 2010 general election, across the country the Conservatives increased their 2015 national vote share by 0.8%. In the 26 constituencies that got TIPS, their vote was up by a much healthier margin – an average of just over 3%.
This poll boost wasn’t universal: in 5 seats the Conservative vote was down a little; and, in Bassetlaw, the site of a new ‘housing zone’, it was down 3.2%. But, in the other 21 seats, the Conservative vote was up – in the vast majority of cases by more than the national swing of 0.8%. Watford, the beneficiary of an added £34m of future rail investment, saw the biggest shift, with an increase in the Conservative vote of 8.6%.
But let’s look more closely. Many of the constituencies receiving TIPS were marginals, so the sharper increase in the Conservative vote could be down to a wider strategy of Conservative campaigning in marginal seats. Tactical voting in these constituencies might also play a part. If we look at the increase in the Conservative vote in marginals then we do find a difference to the national picture: seats where the vote share of the Conservatives and Labour was less than 5% apart in 2010 showed a higher increase in the Conservative vote in 2015: 1.7% compared to the national swing of 0.8%.
That’s the impact perhaps of focused campaigning by the Conservatives plus some tactical voting to keep Labour out. Though this still means that the constituencies receiving TIPS showed a different pattern: a 3% increase in the Conservative vote compared to the 1.7% in marginals.
A word of caution, of course: our sample is very small; we haven’t tested voter awareness of TIPS in any way; and we can’t demonstrate causation. But it is fairly intriguing. TIPS might very well contribute to making voters happy – and possibly more so than other campaign tactics.
Data on 2015 from: http://electionresources.org/uk/2015.html
Data on 2010 from: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/our-work/our-research/electoral-data